Vishnu’s Got My Back
The seeds of Vishnu’s Got My Back started sprouting after a night out in Kolkata back in January 2015. A couple of us queer friends got together at my childhood home and started doing an impromptu photo shoot. Laughing in drunken revelry, putting on make-up to do a ‘quick drag’ look, we started serving faces and looks inspired by our favourite Bollywood and Hollywood heroines, like Zeenat Aman, and Leslie Caron.
Then as the sun rose, news of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France started coming in. We watched in resigned terror. Then we caught sight of ourselves in a hallway mirror in the dawn light.
Standing there covered in crimson lipstick, torn jasmine garlands and smudged eye make-up, we looked utterly ridiculous. Especially considering the events unfolding before us. But then I thought haven’t we always used drag, dressing up and musicals as a way to escape reality?
In fact, I would even go so far as to say I have used escapism as a way to make sense of the world around me. Glamour then became a suit with which to armour up and face the world. When reality felt surreal, it was in my fantasy I found my truth.
Enter the Great American Musical and Great British Music Hall. The musical and music hall may have been a means of escape during the Great Depression and World War 2, but they also served as a means of escape for me, a queer 90’s kid who grew up watching old movie musicals on TV in Kolkata.
Cut to the pandemic in 2020, when I finally started writing this show. It was a way to start making sense of what I had survived in Kolkata, and then as a queer immigrant of colour in London. This is where the talents of Director Jon Edgly Bond came in and helped coalesce what was originally, merely anecdotal snippets and poetry, into a clearly defined narrative.
The same thing happened musically. What was initially just tunes and words in my head, informed by a curious mix of classical temple dance and Kander & Ebb musicals, slowly started to form into fuller musical arrangements thanks to the talents of Musical Director Tom Guest.
Both Jon and Tom, immediately got it. They knew my references and would complete my sentences both as a writer and lyricist, and often times helped me get out of my own way so that I could tell my story.
Originally commissioned by Piali Ray OBE and Adam Pushkin from Sampad Arts and Shout Festival, Vishnu’s Got My Back received its premiere at The Royal Conservatoire Birmingham on the 20th November 2022.
Ash Mukherjee traces the queer experience as seen through the eyes of a first-generation Indian immigrant. Vishnu’s Got My Back is part stand-up, part dance with original poetry, songs and anecdotal stories, reliving the coming of age of a femme non-binary person in post-colonial Kolkata, and then as a queer immigrant person of colour in the UK.
Ash Mukherjee born in Kolkata, India, Ash trained in the Tanjore vaani/school of Bharatanatyam at Kalamandalam Kolkata. He went on to study classical ballet privately with Lady Doreen Wells and graduated with a BA (hons) in Jazz Theatre Dance from London Studio Centre.
In 2009 the Critics’ Circle commissioned Ash to create a solo for the National Dance Awards Ceremony at Sadler’s Wells. Later that year Ash was hand picked by Michael Jackson’s team for This Is It! at the O2 London to create a duet with Jackson.
He then went on to appear in BBC 3’s Move Like Michael Jackson and worked with choreographer Lavelle Smith Junior (choreographer Dangerous Album World Tour) to create a dance solo which married Indian classical temple dance to Michael’s iconic song Man In The Mirror, which was watched by over three million viewers nationwide.
Choreographic works include Song Of The City for Southwark Playhouse Vaults, Salaam India for Commonwealth Games Glasgow Mela 2014, The Flood music video for Katie Melua/William Orbit, Royal Wedding Duet for So You Think You Can Dance BBC and Margate Mārgām for Margate Festival, Turner Prize 2019.
Awards include Best Male Dancer India 1994, nominations for Outstanding Dancer Male by Critics’ Circle National Dance Award UK, London Dance Award, shortlist for Matthew Bourne NACA, DanceEast’s ChoreoLab with Jonathan Lunn, Time Out London Rising Talent & Critics’ Choice artist for Dance Europe.
As an actor Ash has appeared in ‘Will’, for Turner Network Television, as a Bollywood artist for the Marvel movie The Eternals and in HBO’s sequel to Game Of Thrones, House of the Dragon. His one person show Vishnu’s Got My Back, commissioned by Sampad Arts and Shout Festival UK, is a queer coming of age story dealing with mental health issues from post colonial Kolkata to London. The show premiered at the Royal Birmingham Conservetoire in November 2020 and is about to go on tour for the UK Indian Film Festival.
Ash currently resides in Margate, UK and he teaches south Asian dance and classical ballet at Canterbury Christchurch University and runs Dance With Ash, a dance and well-being gathering for anyone who wants to learn how to move, dance and bond through the healing power of laughter, music and movement.